Real Madrid go head-to-head with Inter Milan on Tuesday in a game that could have a big impact on their hopes of progressing to the knockout stage of the Champions League.
Both sides have made slow starts in Group B, with Madrid opening their campaign with a surprise defeat at home to Shakhtar Donetsk before drawing at Borussia Monchengladbach.
Inter have drawn their first two matches against the same opponents to set up a hugely important clash at the Bernabeu Stadium.
The latest football betting odds rate Madrid as favourites to pick up three points on Tuesday, but it would be foolish to write off Inter’s chances. Read on as we preview the game.
Madrid’s Injury Worries Continue
Madrid are without Nacho, Martin Odegaard and Dani Carvajal through injury, while Alvaro Odriozola remains doubtful due to a calf problem.
The Spanish club’s issues at right-back have also intensified with Lucas Vazquez picking up a muscular problem against Huesca over the weekend.
Vazquez has not yet been ruled out, but his absence would leave manager Zinedine Zidane with a major selection headache for the game.
However, Eden Hazard got an hour under his belt on his return to the starting XI and is expected to be in the line-up against Inter.
Lukaku Blow for Inter
Romelu Lukaku is set to miss the game after failing to recover from the muscle injury he suffered during Inter’s goalless draw with Shakhtar.
Lukaku wasn’t present as Inter trained on Monday and his absence would be a major blow to Inter’s hopes of success.
The Serie A club are expected to rely on Lautaro Martinez and Alexis Sanchez up front, with manager Antonio Conte likely to stick with a 3-5-2 formation.
Arturo Vidal, Marcelo Brozovic and Ashley Young could all return to the starting line-up, while Danilo D’Ambrosio is likely to play in the back three.
Madrid Warm Up in Style
While Madrid have struggled to make an impact in the Champions League thus far, their form in La Liga has been much better.
Hazard scored his first goal for more than a year against Huesca, as Madrid moved to the top of the La Liga standings on Saturday.
Karim Benzema (2) and Federico Valverde were also on target to help Madrid run out comfortable 4-1 winners against the newly-promoted side.
The result left Madrid two points clear at the top of the table after seven matches and looking in good shape to mount another title challenge.
Inter Leave it Late
Inter found things much tougher in their most recent outing in Serie A, with Ivan Perisic’s late goal sealing a 2-2 draw at home to Parma.
Former Arsenal star Gervinho scored twice to put the visitors in control, but Conte’s side battled back to snatch a point.
Marcelo Brozovic’s curled strike halved the deficit, before Inter’s comeback was completed in dramatic fashion as Perisic headed home.
Conte will have been pleased with the character shown by his players, but they will need to perform much better if they are to take something from the Madrid game.
Home Teams Have the Edge
This is likely to be THE Champions League game to watch this week, not because of the stature of the teams but because we haven’t seen them compete recently.
The two sides have played 15 previous fixtures but none since autumn 1998, when they met in their only previous Champions League contests.
Madrid won 2-0 in Spain thanks to goals in the final ten minutes from Fernando Hierro and Clarence Seedorf, before a 3-1 Inter win in Milan was sealed by two late Roberto Baggio goals.
Home advantage is always a factor when these two teams meet, with Inter’s 2-0 victory in Madrid in the quarter-finals of the 1967 European Cup the only time an away team has triumphed.
Madrid have won the other six meetings at the Bernabeu and will fancy their chances of enhancing that record on Tuesday.
Zidane Under Pressure Despite Denial
Zidane has claimed that he is unfazed by speculation over his future following his team’s poor start to their Champions League campaign.
However, a defeat against Inter would leave Madrid with a mountain to climb to qualify for the next phase and that would certainly ramp up the pressure on the Frenchman.
As seems to be the norm with the big two clubs in Spain, there have been rumours of unrest amongst the players over the past few weeks.
Zidane can ill-afford another bad result in the Champions League, particularly with trips to Inter and Shakhtar still to come.
Madrid vs Inter Prediction: Madrid cannot slip-up again if they want to make it through to the knockout stage.
They have been below par in their opening two matches in the competition and must now face their strongest challengers in the group.
Losing Lukaku is a blow for Inter, but they are still fancied to frustrate Madrid and pick up a draw at the Bernabeu.